Foraging Fun

As part of the Edinburgh International Science festival there have been a number of events held at the Botanic Gardens, including the Real Life Science Kitchen (post coming up soon!) and this, the Foragers Breakfast.  The experts guiding us through the event were Miles Irving, a forager and wild food expert and fellow forager John Wright (who you may recognise from River Cottage)

An early start was required – 8.30am on a Saturday morning!! We gathered there a little bleary-eyed and were split into two groups.  We went off in a group with Miles and Greg (who is a foraging expert from the Botanics). Our spot was on the East Side of the Gardens, so they led us off in that direction, passing en-route a tree which was giving off a smell of toffee apples…. it smelt good, and made me a little peckish.

We stopped at various points on route where Miles and Greg would talk us through a plant or leaf or tree that we could eat, what it tasted like and how you would prepare it. It was just amazing how much in the gardens is edible and the different flavourings that you can find there!

Without boring you with everything we were told, here are a few interesting facts

  • Beech Trees are good for their nuts
  • Cherry Blossom has an almond flavour (this I can confirm as I tried one!) and is good as an infusion; it is however a form of Cyanide that gives it the almondy flavour!
  • The Yew Tree is toxic, though other conifers are fine, and can be used as a herb or spice or can be infused. Good to use with Strawberries or to flavour beer!
  • Avens is part of the Rose family and has the same active component as cloves.
  • Cabbage family of plants is what produces mustard, though it is volatile, which is why there is vinegar in mustard; this fixes the flavour.
  • Goosegrass comes from the same family as coffee, and you can infuse it to make a tea.
  • Hawthorn infused to make a tea can help prevent heart problems.
  • Meadowsweet Tea has anti-cancer properties.
  • Anything from the Borage family attacks your liver and can cause psoriasis of the liver – avoid!!
  • Daffodils contain galantamine, which is used in the treatment of Alzheimers.
  • Wood Sorrel tastes like green apples, but contains oxalic acid.
  • Gorse tastes like peas.
  • Anything that smells of garlic is safe to eat.

Is that enough yet! The experts also told us that plants etc. can taste like something else, even if they are from different families because they will contain an element of that other family, prime example being Lemon and Lemongrass.

After 1.5 hours of investigating what the Botanics had to offer (not sure I will go to the supermarket again!) we headed back to the Gateway Restaurant for an amazing breakfast, but first stopping off at a Birch Tree that was currently being tapped for sap.  This is how much was collected in 24 hours:

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Quick facts about birch sap! Its a natural source of sugar and it is used in Root Beer and Confectionary in the US.  It tastes slightly of mint.

Back in the heat of the restaurant we were treated to the following:

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I had the wild herb tea (below) and the Apple and Blackthorn Juice, both were tasty

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The Porridge was creamy and tasty, and the wild berries, juicy and tangy.

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The cooked breakfast was tasty, though they ran out of the wild spinach muffin by the time they got to us, they substituted it with some non-foraged toast, which was nice!

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The venison Sausage was chunky, tasty with a lovely flavour (and I am not a huge fan of venison).  They came from Findlay of Portobello who have won awards for their sausages.  The biggest challenge for me was the Potato and Dulce cake.  As a child I used to be force fed dulce, so I am not the biggest seaweed fan, however, it was tasty and tasted actually a bit cabbagey.  The best part of the dish was the baked eggs with morel mushroom and wild garlic.  The egg was perfectly cooked, and a lovely not too strong taste of the wild garlic and mushroom in a light creamy sauce.

Miles and John did a brief Q&A session once we had finished eating, one main question being was foraging doing more harm for the environment or more good for the environment, with John making the point, to cultivate the land, acres of wilderness would have had to be dug up, so certainly there is no more harm being done than we already are doing.  This was an insightful session, and a little motivating I have to say… so watch this space.. there may be some foraged recipes appearing on here!